Remote work: an increasingly elusive perk

With employers like Disney and Starbucks calling workers back in, negotiating remote or hybrid working is becoming trickier as the world gradually moves on from the COVID pandemic.

In January, workers at Disney ⁠– many of whom had been working from home much of the time for years ⁠– received a memo from CEO Bob Iger, calling them back in for four days a week.

"In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors," he wrote.

But the move has not gone down well with staff, with more than 2,300 employees signing a petition pleading with Iger to reverse his decision.

And Disney is far from the only company to have called for a return to the office, and come up against pushback from workers. Starbucks, too, received an open letter from staff unhappy about a similar move.

Research on hybrid working shows a mixed picture, with, as you'd expect, a massive rise during the pandemic. Since then, according to data from LinkedIn, the numbers of job postings offering the perk fell from 20% last February to 14% in September ⁠– but these are now starting to stabilize.

IT sector bucks the trend

In the IT sector, remote working is still widely available – indeed, according to job search site FlexJobs, the Computer & IT category was the top career category for fully remote positions last year, with the number of such listings growing by a quarter year-on-year.

In the UK, three in 10 vacancies for web developers and software engineers offered the choice to work remotely; in the US, the figure for both jobs was comparable, more than 36%.

Similarly, according to HR platform Remote, those working as data scientists, cybersecurity staff, or data analysts have a very good chance of finding remote work.

"With employees now demanding more flexibility, companies around the world have had to reconsider their business models to attract and retain top talent" says the firm. "As a result, many sectors, job roles, and countries are rapidly embracing a future of remote work."

And it seems that, now they've tried it, workers will do whatever it takes to continue hybrid or remote working. A 2021 survey from flexible workspace provider IWG found that more than two-thirds of hybrid workers said they would forgo a payrise to maintain their current work arrangement.

As for software engineers, job platform Hired's annual software engineering study recently found that nearly 40% of software engineers wanted only remote roles, with 21% saying that they'd quit if their employers mandated a return to the office, and 49% saying they'd start looking for another job.

A number of tech firms are particularly open to hybrid working – Facebook, Microsoft, AirBnb, and Adobe, to name just a few.

With Elon Musk at the helm, Twitter and Tesla are well-known for being companies that oppose home working, with the billionaire having railed against the practice, demanding that stuff put in at least 40 hours a week in the office.

And while Apple and Google don't have a blanket ban, they don't make it easy, either.

So what's the best way to negotiate a remote or hybrid working pattern? It helps to have a skill that's in high demand – software engineering, for example. But for any position, the trick is to persuade the employer that your work will be enhanced, not diminished, by working at home.

Those wishing to do this will often have to offer some sort of compromise, though ⁠– maybe two days a week in the office, or a lower salary.

However, studies show that remote workers are often more productive than those in the office, with a recent CIPD survey in the UK showing that four in 10 employers said that allowing hybrid working had improved their organizations' efficiency.

“Everyone should have the chance to benefit from more choice about when, where, and how they work," says Claire McCartney, CIPD senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion.

"This can lead to increased wellbeing and engagement, and enhanced performance, all of which can lead to the productivity gains many employers are reporting."